I had a baby this year! It was a big thing in my world, bringing lots of new physical realities and choices. I am choosing to be candid about my experience in this reflection, not only for my own sake but also to encourage others to share the messiness – even knowing that writing about my breasts is maybe not what some would deem “professional.” Frankly a good part of me would rather just block out my distressing postpartum period rather than relive it in words for anyone to judge; however, the flip side is that I’ve learned so much from what one might call mommy bloggers whose reflections were one of the only ways I had even a smidgen of a sense of what was coming for me, so this is my contribution as a way of paying it forward. If it’s helpful to even one person I will gladly submit to the awkwardness a thousand times over. Thank you for reading!
Having a kid is scary because of all the unknowns but also something Ragip and I both know we want, at least in the abstract: a family. That’s about the only thing we know and it’s going to have to be good enough because as the year begins I find myself newly pregnant. It’s early January and we’ve recently returned from our holiday vacation in Wisconsin when that first wave of nausea hits me. Suddenly I need to leave the coffeeshop with its too-loud music and acrid coffee smell and sad egg sandwich. In the car I fixate on cantaloupe and my longing is almost sensual. I think I might puke if I open my mouth so I stay quiet, silently brooding over what’s in store for me today and every day moving forward. We call the baby pişmaniye after a Turkish candy made in my husband’s hometown. None of it seems real.
Timing becomes critical. With family in faraway states we’re able to keep our secret until our parents’ visits to California, well-timed at just past that 12-week mark, when you’re considered less likely to miscarry. With the exception of some nauseating car rides, my days are still surprisingly productive. Once home, I collapse, and I tend to spend weekends groggy and green on the couch. My pregnancy app tells me that the baby is the size of a poppyseed, then a red lentil, miniscule, unimaginable things. I move through first trimester stages: the car sickness stage, the nausea all-the-time stage, the impossible headaches stage. I keep waiting to miscarry, half expecting it, doing my best to keep that emotional distance. But I stay pregnant, and pretty soon I’m disguising my lumpy midsection with bulky extra layers. The mild California winter enables a longer window of deception and I’m around 15 weeks along when I tell my boss and department. I feel a secret zip of pride when everyone is so surprised at my news, even with all the clues I thought I’d given – not trying on the dizzying new Oculus Rift, the dark stripe of three month roots that had grown in, increasingly cagey answers about timelines that involve the fall quarter. Finally telling everyone is a relief; it opens the door to plans.
In my second trimester I start to feel better, that icky hungover feeling disappearing abruptly. I become a bit more willing to get out into the world. Ragip and I attend the March for Our Lives in Los Angeles. We drive to Las Vegas and eat at Halal Guys and lay by the pool and peruse vintage shops and go to the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum. We sign up for a Warner Brothers studio tour that ends up being quite fun. We visit Newport Beach and eat frozen bananas on Balboa Island. We spend Memorial Day weekend roadtripping to Arizona (Antelope Canyon) and Utah (Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks), taking in scenes I couldn’t even have fathomed when I lived in the Midwest.
Spring is busy. Fresh from our fall reorganization, the Research Services department is still quite new and we’re working on laying a strong foundation for success: interrogating existing services and service models, retooling our workshop workflows, growing our skills in strategic planning and project management, figuring out how to collaborate both within and beyond our department. Each librarian works on a strategic plan that encompasses her area of expertise (data management, open research, scholarly communication, maker services, geospatial information), taking ownership of a new role and identifying exciting new directions in the process. The strategic plan forms the basis of a project plan, a next step at digging into librarian-led pilot projects that will launch in 2019. Then there are sizable special projects, like analyzing map collection materials in preparation for a massive relocation, moving from a reference desk to a student-staffed information desk, and organizing a big celebration marking the one year anniversary of the Creat’R Lab.
As department head I’m thinking about how we’re developing expertise in our key support areas but also the broader programmatic pieces, a delicate balancing act that can easily lead to me feeling overinvested in one sector and lacking in another. I’m doing new-to-me manager things like initiating the review process for my direct reports, my time as department head spent on ever-fluctuating levels of engagement in the areas that fall within my portfolio: sometimes deep, sometimes just approving and moving along, always trying to determine that sweet spot. I am refining my ability to stay in the know without micromanaging, to guide in a way that feels authentic and collegial and inclusive yet still focused and accountable. It is difficult at times. I realize that I still want to drift down into the details in a way that I can’t sustain as department head. I am nail-bitingly eager to support digital scholarship projects but I keep myself from charging ahead. My job is to advocate for the needs. I try to practice self-awareness, noting where I feel I need to improve (blocking time on my calendar so I can give more timely feedback to my team; embracing the good enough; not putting off the difficult conversations). Mostly I just try to keep in mind where we can be in a year, three years, five years, and remind myself that it’s my job to guide and support our department on that winding path.
I try to be practical as I think of the year ahead. I feel anxious at the thought of being out of the office for three months, especially as we’re gaining such momentum as a new department. I know I’ll need the time to recover physically, I know I’ll need the time to adjust mentally, and I know I’ll want the time to bond with my baby too. I feel lucky to have the option, knowing all too well how many parents don’t… even so, as someone who enjoys my job, I find it hard to imagine stepping away. I relish a full slate of professional engagements that ease my mind about bowing out for my maternity leave. I offer my Design Thinking for Librarians course for the second time through the UW iSchool. I help organize the DLFx conference that takes place in Riverside, co-leading the Data Curation CKG Unconference and presenting with a colleague on our makerspace, the Creat’R Lab. I attend the LIS+OER Symposium at North Carolina State University, spending time brainstorming about open data and what students should know about it. I collaborate with a UCR colleague to lead a roundtable on change management at the CARL conference.
In between all the work and weekend fun we find out that baby is a boy. The gender reveal ultrasound takes place at twenty weeks pregnant. It’s not quite as romantic as I’d imagined it to be: I’m jabbed with the wand in a dimly lit room for 45-minutes by a staid and silent ultrasound tech, eyes glued to a screen tilted away from me. I leave with a stack of unidentifiable black and white pictures and an envelope containing the sex of the baby. Ragip and I open it together in the parking lot of a new Indian restaurant we wanted to try. A blue post-it proclaims, “It’s a boy!” and I cry but not from joy. I am a little ashamed that I care but I do. I feel a little better that my husband does too. I knew it would be a boy, precisely because we wanted a girl. A girl is easy for reasons that start with the name. (Our boy name conversations leave us deeply entrenched on opposing sides. We make lists: first tier, second tier, third tier. We take times debating, negotiating, and moving them around. The conversations are not fruitful.) Deeper still is my feeling that I don’t know what to do with a boy. Even with the good men in my life I’ve been so tired of men lately that the thought that I’ll be responsible for a boy who will turn into a man is sobering. It’s beyond my comprehension, and possibly beyond my abilities, too.
Summer kicks off with ALA in New Orleans. I lead Digital Scholarship Section meetings and deliver a DSS preconference with other members of the DSS Executive Board. Ragip comes to join me in NOLA and we tool around, the humidity utterly inescapable. We spend our time scouting gators on a swamp tour, looking for the best grits and jazz, and playing go fish in coffeeshops to escape the heat. Delightful company aside, for the first time I cannot wait to leave a city.
Back in California I can’t shake this persistent hard-edged sense that I must do all the things before this baby comes, extract as many carefree moments as I can before life changes forever. We decide we will go to the beach every weekend until the baby comes. With my big professional obligations out of the way all I can see is the change ahead, looming and unknowable. When I see pictures of other people’s newborns it still doesn’t compute that I’ll have one of those, that there’s a brain and toes inside me. I can understand how babies aren’t quite real until you see them with your own eyes.
I’m now quite obviously pregnant and when people say that I am probably so excited to meet my son I balk, vaguely uncomfortable, not quite ready for that depth. The best I can come up with is that I’m fond of him. Mostly I feel empathy for the fact that he’s about to join this new and different world, and I like the idea that we will all learn together, baby and parents. This is one of the only thoughts that dredges up anything akin to sentimentality. All in all I’d rather not think too deeply about it. I relish the frequent days when I completely forget I am pregnant. When I have to reckon with it I skim the surface: this is happening, I’m going to have a kid, and the only way out and back to a recognizable life is through those murky next phases of childbirth and postpartum. I don’t want to spend too much time fixating and fretting, so I tend to unleash it all in crying jags every few weeks, late Sunday night wet pillow panics, my husband soothing me as we chart out the ways that we will be fine, and that we’ll probably maybe perhaps like our kid too.
As summer wraps up, I finalize lists for my department and for my boss. I’m feeling reasonably responsible, like I’ve done my due diligence to ensure that everyone feels supported as I peace out for three months. I have a better sense of what I’ll come back to, that our progress as a department won’t be unduly hindered by my leave. Three days before my due date I attend a work retreat in idyllic wine country. Everyone’s making jokes, half-afraid I’ll go into labor and disrupt it all but I am living my best life in my stretchiest late pregnancy floral dresses. I don’t want the disruption that is imminent, not when everything is humming along so easily.
Dashiell is born in late August, three days late. The onset of labor is swift – vague cramps after waking up, sudden loss of appetite, contractions, vomiting up my half-eaten breakfast. My husband is working from home and after three hours of laboring on our bed I tell him no more conference calls. I’m tracking my contractions on an app and I recognize the patterns, the shrinking windows of time I have in between, so I set about my final vain pursuits before we’re out the door. I paint my toenails, only finishing one foot before diving back onto our bed, resurfacing after my next contraction to finish the job. (I had always wondered what contractions would feel like. My best description is that my abdomen was a coconut, contractions a hatchet splitting me open. Knowing that a contraction is not going to kill you helps.) Soon we’re off to the hospital, where I wonder if they’ll send me home but no, I’m apparently 7.5 centimeters dilated already so I get raced down the hallway in a wheelchair like I’m in a movie, nurses giving me mad love for my pain tolerance. My husband gets Thai food and I get an epidural; as soon as it kicks in I’m able to text the bustling family group chat, everyone zoned in from Wisconsin and New York and I’m like hellooooo omg I’m in labor! More waiting, more nurses in and out checking me, then pushing, more pushing, then baby whisked away to get checked by the neonatal specialists in the corner of the room, then more pushing and oh my there’s the placenta (husband takes a picture as we examine it in amazement and I’ve never loved him more), then my straightfaced midwife with her giant needle back and forth between my legs, stitching away. Minutes after delivery, Dash is deemed good to go and passed back to me.
I appraise my baby. He is a lanky solemn frog. Bald and red and constantly sucking his bottom lip in, giving him the appearance of a perma-frown. He doesn’t look like me or my husband, in my opinion, but my husband disagrees and deems him a Marshall immediately. I don’t feel any familiarity with him, certainly no instant bond, but I do feel a great deal of awe that I built this stranger.
One of the first things I hear post-delivery is the nurses’ telling me I have a lazy baby. We’re giving breastfeeding a go and they tell me his latch is good but he won’t suck. The nurses all squeeze my breasts, angle and stuff them at my baby. It’s as though I’ve stepped away from the oddity of everything that is happening to survey it from outside my body. I know nothing about this new world so my attitude is that they should do with my breasts what they will. We see a lactation consultant in the hospital. She agrees – he won’t suck, not even with a strange silicone contraption called a nipple shield. A hospital grade breast pump is wheeled in and I’m hooked up, sending Ragip and I into gales of laughter. I am eager for any hint of comedy, so I push away the part of myself that hates this new mechanical intrusion and I give in to the humor of it all. He gets pulled away to learn our new feeding system, some tube and bottle system called SNS, the tube taped to his finger. It’s supposed to teach Dash how to suck. Already we’re pulled into our two corners, immersed in parallel acts of parenting.
Before I know it we are home. Some things are fun and funny but other times I am hit hard with uglier emotions. I cry because my husband can rock Dash and move with him. I take videos of them together that I both love for how much he has dived in and resent for how I can’t. My breasts are constantly out and I’m rarely in pictures, I just take them, many variations on the theme of delicate Dash in dad’s arms. I am aware enough to tell Ragip that this must be the baby blues, to just hold me. I ramble my fears. What if I’m not enjoying this newborn period enough, and he’s so small and he’ll never be small again and I’m just not doing it right? What if I’m lonely for the entire time I’m home on maternity leave and I hate it but then I look back and miss it and realize I squandered it? What happens when my parents come to stay and they get to see me parenting up close and personal and deem me wanting, inadequately joyful enough? I can recognize from a lifetime of hormones that the rush and gripping intensity of these feelings points to purely hormonal, those baby blues. In any case, I feel terror at the idea of him going back to work. Not just for the enjoyment of our time together, nothing quite so rosy: for making all the things happen that need to happen for both baby and me. Strangers dare to say, “They sure don’t stay that small! Make sure you enjoy him.” This worms its way into my head, pops up late at night when I’m least expecting it. How can I enjoy him while I’m passing blood clots into a diaper, I can’t stand up straight, I have a handful of pills I have to take on schedule? Let’s not even get into my unrecognizable breasts or the endless bottles, caps, tubes, and pump parts to be cleaned, laundry to be washed, and an alien baby in my apartment. As much as I recognize our incredible good fortune at this healthy kid, there is no joy to be found.
We are relieved to have visits with lactation consultants covered by our insurance. We meet with one when Dash is one week old. Even the act of getting in the car and driving across town with a newborn feels herculean; I am spent before we walk in the door. Once there, we meet our stern, knowledgeable, no-nonsense lactation consultant. She refers to me as mommy as she delivers brusque adjustments and corrections. I do my best to take it in stride but I have never felt more vulnerable in my life. I am a doll, maneuvered and posed and propped up with nursing pillows. I fight a deep surge of emotion for a good twenty minutes before I lose it, bawling in her office, my embarrassment making it that much more difficult to stop. The lactation consultant warns me that if I can’t make breastfeeding work my job will be much harder. I should pump, and in order to make sure my supply is adequate I need to pump every two hours for twenty minutes, 24 hours a day. She recommends galactagogues, pills and powders and particular foods. My amazing, ever-engaged husband makes a list. We leave the appointment tougher, tears gone. We are ready to do this. It could work.
Alas, back home we find that all the new tricks and positions don’t move the needle much; he still won’t suck. It’s painful and frustrating as he screams red-faced and dissatisfied, lacking teeth but not a substantial bite. I am gutted by this not working and so very tired, and I dread the moments when I have to try again. It begins with a glimmer of hopefulness that this time the tide will turn in our favor but my mood soon turns to stark rancid anger, sometimes pointed internally, other times boiling over at my child. In one such moment I hand him to Ragip with silent tears streaming down my face and I can’t look at Dash for a good thirty minutes while I seethe, trapped in a body I despise with a child who is (understandably) indifferent to my efforts. I recognize that my burden is biological, not personal – but it sure feels personal some days. I desperately miss having a job that isn’t physical.
I find that I get anxious before our weekly lactation consultation appointments, especially when Ragip is back at work and I have to go alone: gut-churning dread, like I’m headed to gym class or a test I know I will fail. Even what I consider positive steps forward in our journey feel guilt-ridden, precarious. Three weeks in I give Dash a bottle of pumped breastmilk after weeks of trying SNS and breastfeeding, cycles of failing and crying and dying inside, only to find myself sputtering as I justify it to my lactation consultant (aghast, eyebrow arched, reciting the dire consequences of nipple confusion). I crave her approval but I don’t feel good at these appointments; I get jumbled, caught between wanting to toe the line and these nagging, annoying feelings that nobody cares about me, just my milk. Perversely, I start hoarding the truth, telling little white lies to inflate the number of times I tried to breastfeed Dash, as though this would make it clear that this was his fault this wasn’t working, not mine. I know how silly it is but I do it anyway. I can’t see any other way to preserve my feelings. I don’t trust her anymore.
Dash’s one month doctors’ appointment turns out to be quite the spectacle, rife with so many rookie mom fumbles. I can hardly carry his carseat but I hobble along, only thinking about the stroller when I’m already in the building. He’s sleeping but I fear what happens when he wakes up; I have a bottle of pumped milk ready to go as the clock ticks. Dash starts fussing at 20 minutes past my appointment so I give him his bottle, suddenly feeling desperate that I might run out of milk. They don’t call me in until 50 minutes after my appointment, no justification given. I feel the familiar tightness; I am desperate to pump, the threat of clogged ducts hangs over me. The nurse measures him, makes small talk while I am clearly flustered by my squalling baby and the jumble of things in the bag. The doctor asks if baby is taking breastmilk, and upon my mmmhmm says, “Good girl,” like I am a dog. I clarify that I’m exclusive pumping and her glance sharpens subtly but noticeably as she doles out a brisk reply: “You should really move back to breastfeeding. I’ve known a lot of moms who can’t keep up a supply by pumping and have to give up completely.”
This sly rebuke packaged as medical guidance feels cold. I can hardly muster a response, and if I did I’m sure it wasn’t eloquent. I think about my baby’s file, which surely lists the four lactation consultant visits we’ve had over the past month. The ups and downs, the progress made (and not made). Why didn’t she look at his file, and if she did, why didn’t she understand what that many appointments meant? I resent her for not giving me a chance to share my experience. She doesn’t ask, my lactation consultant doesn’t ask, nobody asks but um I hate breastfeeding and I hate pumping so I’d love some feel good words about how I’m doing this incredibly taxing thing for my kid. What I wouldn’t give for a fresh dose of encouragement, for someone to pause and look at me and maybe even hold my hand and state some simple generic words, “You are doing great! Wow!” Instead I feel increasingly adrift, angry at my medical professionals. I talk to my husband on the drive home: more feverish anger leading to lonely tears, more of the sense that my world is closing in on me. This appointment confirms for me that it’s up to us to figure this out.
As a new mom on maternity leave, it seems I am constantly trapped in some stage of pumping (situating the baby, strapping on my pumping bra, hooked up to my pump, tracking ounces, cleaning parts, storing milk). On top of this I find myself immersed in a cyclical, whack a mole rotation of breast ailments… as soon as one thing disappears, another pops up in its place. I start getting clogged ducts once, maybe twice per week, sharply painful red lumps that require you to massage them out vigorously, often over the course of hours or even days. I get mastitis, a breast infection that occurs when you don’t clear a clogged duct, and I’m incapacitated for two days with a fever of 102 degrees, limbs heavy as lead, hot then cold. I learn to fear going for more than three hours between pumps; I know the consequences. On the rare days we venture out, the unwieldy pump comes with us in the car. I cry and cry. Why me? All of this precedes the endless scouring of forums when the baby sleeps, comparing women’s experiences in 2005 and 2012 to find something, anything to shed light on my 2018 pain.
- Sore nipples
- Cracked nipples
- Breastfeeding can’t wear a shirt
- What is a normal breast milk supply
- Exclusive pumping maintaining supply
- What is a vasospasm
- Redness on breast
- Shooting pain in breast
- Breast itches why
- Breast pump flange fit
- Recurrent clogged ducts same place
- Lecithin for clogged ducts
- How to treat mastitis
- Symptoms of thrush
I think back to when I told Ragip, we’ll breastfeed if it works. I’d read too many mommy blogs to know that it was difficult, that some babies didn’t latch, that sometimes you wouldn’t have enough milk. It wasn’t mom’s fault. I never thought formula was evil; I was firmly team fed is best. And yet, I had to admit to my husband that I didn’t actually think this would be our situation. There was still a big part of me that assumed that breastfeeding was natural and effortless, that I’d be dealing with breastfeeding public shamers at worst. I knew exactly what I would tell any woman sitting across from me in the state I was in but somehow I couldn’t give myself that grace. The solution often seemed just past my fingertips, tantalizing, my ongoing analysis manic and full of forced optimism. If I can troubleshoot the bugs this whole shebang could be smooth sailing! And anyway it will only get better if I can just hack it now because they say when your supply is more established you can start dropping pumps! They say this is a difficult time for a reason! We just have to survive it!
I buy a special app to track my pumping that breaks down several data points including my output in ounces and how much time I am spending per pump. It’s pretty amazing, actually: you can count what your child eats versus what you are stashing in the freezer and set supply goals. I embrace it as a critical tool for my new reality. As someone who is perhaps too data-driven, I spend my time plugging in my ounces, watching trends emerge. Still, the data scares me a little. One week I realize that I’ve spent a total of 1421 minutes pumping 302.7 ounces of breastmillk – or the equivalent of one full day out of my week attached to a pump. I find this both alarming and impressive. This is my task, this is the only quantifiable thing in my life beyond keeping a still not too interesting infant alive. When I need a pick me up I open the screen and oh look! Check out my numbers; I am succeeding. Using this handy app, I have a countdown set. I want to stash away enough milk to give him until he is six months old.
Dash is almost two months old when I realize I haven’t worn a bra or a real shirt in seven weeks. The rest of my body is pretty much fully recovered; the weight fell off without me noticing until it was almost gone. But I spend most of my days topless in the apartment. Far from this feeling sexy, I feel like an animal. On a good day I’ll put on a shirt. I’ve been cycling through the same loose, soft flowy shirts, mostly pajamas. My closetful of clothes feels impossibly far away, untouchable, even though it’s just right there. I sit hunched so the fabric touches my body as minimally as possible. Keeping the blinds open only a crack to keep out prying eyes, small shafts of sunlight coming in. Shuffling quickly past the back door when I dare to keep it open. Putting on something an hour before my husband gets home. Taking selfies with my son to remember that I exist, to have something tangible that marks a moment in a day that will otherwise be a blur of sameness. On this particular day I break. I’ve been holding my son at arm’s length. He’s stronger, he has dangerous flailing limbs. I can’t hold him close when he cries. I realize how normal this has become to me… not holding my child, not hugging my husband. As soon as Ragip walks through the door I lose it, tears streaming down my face. I can’t look at him. He comes near, his features creasing in empathy. An all too common scene, replayed yet again.
I never saw myself in a situation where I would openly discuss my breasts of all things but all of a sudden I am yearning for connection, for someone to absolve me, to tell me I am doing okay, to acknowledge my struggle. I’m embarrassed to bring it up, it’s my boobs for god’s sake, but I can’t seem to keep it in. Love me even though I am flailing and failing at a thing I wanted to handle with little fanfare. It helped when family and friends I confided in said, “You should just stop – it’s no big deal.” It helped when they said, “It’s not worth it. Maybe you should move to formula.” I texted so many mom friends to say ahhh have you dealt with this and sometimes just wtf. Mostly I was just alone in my apartment, though, waiting with desperation for my husband to get home to commiserate, to love me, to take Dash away.
Around this time is when I finally say I want to stop. I had spent an hour massaging my right breast in the car at a drive-in theatre, double feature. Our date night. We had takeout laid out on the dashboard, Dash sleeping in the backseat. I’d forgotten my pumping bra, so I held onto each flange one at a time. I was desperately working on a clog in the right. All things considered, it was a good night and I was only minimally annoyed – there’d been times where a clog was more painful, a missing pump part more inconvenient. This wasn’t a terribly big deal to me. I was in good spirits but sleepy when we drove home around midnight. Lost in thought, I contemplated how different the night would have been without pumping. I thought about the normalcy that was slowly ebbing back into our lives. Dash no longer felt like a stranger. I enjoyed him more, felt more capable of parenting him. And yet my breastfeeding woes stained my whole experience. I thought ahead to the new few months: visiting New York for Thanksgiving, going back to work in early December, then flying to Wisconsin for Christmas. There was just one variable that filled me with dread. Visions streaked through my mind: the airport, the plane, sequestering myself away from family to pump. If it was just pumping without the threat of clogged ducts, of mastitis, then that would be one thing. However, the thought of all the best-laid plans and sacrifices leading to pain and infection no matter what felt so unmistakably sour. And I could hardly see why I would want that or how my family would benefit beyond my milk. So I say as much to Ragip. I admit I don’t want to pump any more for all of those reasons and then some, and the relief to have chosen fills me with hope. We cry together, baby asleep in the bassinet next to us. He has been telling me for weeks, since practically the very beginning, that we don’t have to do this. Now I can see the way to let go, too.
It takes a month to wean fully. I haven’t even made it through my lactation tea and cookies when suddenly I’m switching to no flow tea and lactation suppressants. My weaning journey is fraught with missteps and I get mastitis yet again. It’s discouraging but I am buoyed to think that this is the final hurdle before my long-awaited freedom. It’s like goldilocks porridge but with pumping: not too little that you’ll get engorged/clogged ducts/mastitis, but not so much that you’re not making a dent in your production. We visit New York for two weeks around Thanksgiving, which coincides with me pumping for the last time. The formula is a marvel. It’s magical and beautiful and sanity-saving, and with it the world becomes instantly brighter. We go into Manhattan for an evening out without lugging the pump along, without charting out the plan for where and when to pump and how to store the milk. All the complex logistics are suddenly unnecessary! I feel deliciously free, untethered.
As the stress ebbs away space is cleared for the connection I waited for. For the first time, I realize that having an infant is different from having a newborn. While I still can’t really tell what’s a Dash thing and what’s just a baby thing, I can say that he is getting to be so much more fun. I can roll him up in my arms, toss him over my shoulder. I tell him everything and nothing, the most random things coming out of my mouth as his big eyeballs stare up at me. I say I love you to Dash for the first time, tenderness unfurling after a surprise projectile vomit experience next to the Thanksgiving table.
I feel the difference, so I get it now: this is what they meant about the fourth trimester. My relief at moving past it is incredible and exhilarating. As it comes to a close I tell my husband I want to talk about the good things. There are so many good things, they’ve just been overshadowed considerably by the pain the sleeplessness the boredom the isolation. We have a healthy kid; I don’t take that for granted. I remind myself that I learned a whole bag of tricks for next time (lecithin, lactation massager, savoy cabbage leaves, the right freaking pump flange size). I feel like I can breathe. I feel like I can contemplate going back to work, that I’ve cleared room for new ideas and new chapters.
BACK TO WORK
My first day back at work is in early December. I am in charge of daycare dropoff. Dash and I are both unfazed as I pass him off to a bustling room of kiddos, nursery songs playing merrily. When I arrive at the office, a colleague comes by with a warm drink. Adult conversation. Bright sunlight. Glorious silence. Dual monitors, the cheerful clacking of my keyboard. It is bliss. Friends and family are texting me good wishes and it’s icing on the cake. I am so happy to be back at work. I am a bit nervous about my upcoming review, about juggling everything now that a baby’s needs and demands bookend my workday and yet… I craved this structure.
Distance deepens my perspective as I reflect on my postpartum period. Our issues began with my kid not sucking but so many more problems stemmed from my medical practitioners’ (well-intentioned) fixation on breastfeeding as ultimate goal, without incorporating guidance and support for how pumping can work when breastfeeding isn’t. I developed an oversupply by supplementing and pumping so frequently, unknowingly creating a perfect environment for clogged ducts and mastitis. I try not to wonder what could have been but my mind drifts there… and for me there is no greater what if than wondering why my lactation consultant never suggested that I try a different flange size when I spent week after week reporting back about being in so much pain I couldn’t wear a shirt. (In retrospect, I suspect she just didn’t know enough about pumping to advise me appropriately, which is a shame because this one factor could have changed everything for me. But there I go again… no what ifs.) I am also implicated – specifically, my attachment to the idea of myself as a mom who solves a problem. Not a lazy mom, not a mom who gave up, not a mom who squandered the milk she was lucky enough to make. For too long, I didn’t allow myself to accept that I could be the mom who solves the problem by supplementing with or switching to formula.
In the end, my biggest revelations about this journey have much less to do with my baby than they do with my husband. While I was mired in a postpartum haze making it work, he was right there listening, accepting, loving, and doing the thankless parenting work too, different from mine but no less important. Together, day by day, we crafted a new normal. 2019 looks bright, filled with new work projects and a sweet kid to watch grow.